GrassScoops: An Interview Series – Jay Tandan

grassscoops jay tandan

Welcome to the second installment of GrassScoops: An Interview Series! We will be chatting with grassroots advocacy changemakers from leading associations, non-profits and corporations each month, and highlighting the challenges they encountered, lessons learned, and best practices they recommend, so that others may learn from their experiences.

We talked to Jay Tandan, US Digital Marketing Manager for Ben & Jerry’s, about activism and advocacy in this mission-driven company.

Why Leading Brands are Embracing Grassroots Activism

Tell us about your role at Ben & Jerry’s and what you do.

I’m pretty lucky to have a multifaceted role within the company. As digital’s influence is constantly growing and reaching across all industries, so too it is across many functions within the company. My role as US Digital Marketing Manager enables me to plug into all of those, from our retail scoop shops, to our activism and advocacy work, to creating recipes for our fans. I like to think of it as one-third traditional ice cream marketer, one third media publisher, and one-third activist.

What drove you to be a part of such a mission-driven company?

As a Vermont native, Ben & Jerry’s has always been held in high regard for me. As an environmental student at heart, there are few companies I can safely say I’d hold a ‘marketing’ role for. The values of the company are tightly aligned with my own, which we at Ben & Jerry’s live and breathe every day.

Why are activism and advocacy an important part of Ben & Jerry’s mission?

At Ben & Jerry’s, we don’t do cause-related marketing we do issue advocacy. While there is value to cause-related marketing we find that to drive the true progressive change we hope to see in the world, we need to engage citizens, politicians, and our fans alike to drive systemic change. This rigorous campaigning is the type of activism that will help drive paradigm shifts within our culture and society.

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How does the company choose the partners and campaigns that you support?

We were fortunate enough to have our cofounders lay out the company’s Progressive Values Statement many years ago. This document is unlike most corporate values statements. It focuses on not just the business and its impact, but society as a whole, and how we see businesses fitting into that landscape. While that statement helps guide us, it is our ongoing quest for a more just and equitable society that leads us. Within each of these movements, we really owe it all to the NGOs and organizations that work on these issues day in and day out, who provide opportunities for an ice cream company to help lend a hand.  

Have you seen more of an interest in advocacy from your millennial customers than older generations?

I guess I’d answer that by saying, well maybe someday tie-dye will be popular again, then we’d really be winning! What I mean by that is, yes, we do find that just doing business and selling a product is no longer enough to satisfy many of our fans, but luckily for us, we’ve been at this for a while and have, from the very start, been living our three-part business model.

Learn more about why customers should help shape public policy in emerging industries. 

What are the metrics you are tracking and how do you determine the success of your campaigns?

We really take the lead on key metrics or ‘what success looks like’ from our NGO partners. They are the folks who know these issues better than anyone else, and they know what needs to get done to move the needle. Whether it’s petition signatures, feet in the street at an event, or calls to Congress, we follow the lead of the experts and support in whatever ways an ice cream company can.  While we also benchmark the number of advocacy actions taken each – we know that 10 phone calls to the right person at the right time could drive far more impact than 10,000 petition signatures.

If you were to give some advice to a company just starting their issue advocacy journey, what would you tell that team?

If you’re going to do it – do it. Really do it. This is not the type of work that organizations (particularly for-profits) should step into lightly, as we are typically engaging with issues that folks have spent their life working on. Be there for the movement and bring your strengths to the table to support that.

What are your predictions for the future of advocacy?

I see one short-term trend and one longer-term trend. Short term, it will continue to be – like most things – increasingly digitalized, and because of this, I think there will be some sink or swim moments for advocacy organizations to adapt to our digitized world. I would make one thing clear though, it’s individuals and their passion that drive the whole thing forward, so I’m not trying to say we should leave it to robots to figure this stuff out. My second prediction would be in regards to corporate advocacy. While I don’t think it will become a key pillar of any corporation, I do think that like religion in the 1800s, and the government in the 1900s, corporations (and influencers) today are the driving force for change.  

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Anything else you’d like to share?

For organizations that are looking to do this type of work, it’s not easy. It’s not linear. It’s not a marketing campaign. It often doesn’t have a start and an end. I think that is a huge misunderstanding from folks who attempt to engage in this kind of work that are coming from the business world, and what makes working alongside amazing NGO partners so humbling. So many people have committed their life to these issues, and they aren’t going to be solved in one 6-month omnichannel marketing ruse.

Okay, and one last one because we have to know… what’s your favorite flavor?

Okay so, of course, I’m not going to have an easy answer… My favorite chocolate based flavor is Phish Food (I also happen to be a big fan of Phish’s music), and my favorite vanilla-based flavor is AmeriCone Dream.

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